Therefore, I was pleased to take Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope" home from the library some weeks ago, and it was a good choice, a very good choice actually.
Barack Obama wrote this in 2006, when he was the junior U.S. senator from Illinois and lived in Chicago. It wasn't his first book; he had previously published "Dreams from My Father" (which I have not read), a book that made it to the New York Times beststeller list.
The book is divided into nine chapters with headlines such as "Values", "Faith", "Race", "The World Beyond Our Borders" and "Family". The writing is personal and fluent; you can tell the words come from one person and not from a team of ghostwriters. It is a pleasure to read, and (for me) a rather instructive pleasure at that.
Of course I did learn something about the political system in the U.S. back at school, but there, more emphasis was placed on learning about our own country, and I must admit I can not remember in detail the lessons about political systems in other countries.
So this book gave me an insight not only into the structure of politics in the U.S. but also into the way an American perceives his own country, and the place of that country in relation to the rest of the world.
Some passages I found so remarkable for one reason or other that I want to share them here.
Let me begin at the beginning. When I started reading this, I showed the book to RJ and he asked what it was about. This bit from the prologue is what I read to him:
That's the topic of this book: how we might begin the process of changing our politics and our civic life. This isn't to say that I know exactly how to do it. I don't. Although I discuss in each chapter a number of our most pressing policy challenges, and suggest in broad strokes the path I believe we should follow, my treatment of the issues is often partial and incomplete. I offer no unifying theory of American government, nor do these pages provide a manifesto for action, complete with charts and graphs, timetables and ten-point-plans.
Instead what I offer is something more modest: personal reflections on those values and ideals that have led me to public life, some thoughts on the ways that our current political discourse unnecessarily divides us, and my own best assessment - based on my experience as a senator and lawyer, husband and father, Christian and skeptic - of the ways we can ground our politics in the notion of a common good.
Quite a bit further into the book, under the chapter named "Opportunity", I found this interesting bit about oil:
The United States has 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. We use 25 percent of the world's oil. We can't drill our way out of the problem.
What we can do is create renewable, cleaner energy sources for the twenty-first century.
Obama says about his mother:
...she possessed an abiding sense of wonder, a reverence for life and its precious, tranistory nature that could properly be described as devotional. During the course of the day, she might come across a painting, read a line of poetry, or hear a piece of music, and I would see tears well up in her eyes. Sometimes, as I was growing up, she would wake me up in the middle of the night to have me gaze at a particularly spectacular moon, or she would have me close my eyes as we walked together at twilight to the rustle of leaves.
Throughout the book, we catch glimpses of home life at the Obama's (while the most personal chapter is the last one, titled "Family"), such as this one:
Later that night, back home in Chicago, I sat at the dinner table, watching Malia and Sasha as they laughed and bickered and resisted their string beans before their mother chased them up the stairs and to their baths. Alone in the kitchen washing the dishes, I imagined my two girls growing up, and I felt the ache that every parent must feel at one time or another, that desire to snatch up each moment of your child's presence, and never let go...
Some very honest and clear words about U.S. foreign policy can be found in the chapter "The World Beyond Our Borders", for instance:
Indonesia also provides a handy record of U.S. foreign policy over the past fifty years. In broad outline at least, it's all there: our role in liberating former colonies and creating international institutions to help manage the post-World War II order; our tendency to view nations and conflicts through the prism of the Cold War; our tireless promotion of American-style capitalism and multinational corporations; the tolerance and occasional encouragement of tyranny, corruption, and environmental degradation when it served our interest; our optimism once the Cold War ended that Big Macs and the Internet would lead to the end of historical conflicts; [...] the realization that the wonders of globalization might also facilitate economic volatility, the spread of pandemics, and terrorism.
I recommend this book to anyone, regardless of their political orientation or the country they live in. There is, I believe, something in it for all of us.
(And I still want to read Michelle Obama's biography)